Apache helicopters shorten the kill chain by integrating unmanned aerial system video

FT. EUSTIS, Va., 2 Mar. 2009 Officials at the Army Aviation Applied Technology Directorate (AATD) tasked engineers at Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control in Orlando, Fla., to shorten the kill chain for Apache helicopters by integrating unmanned aircraft system (UAS) video and to do it in less than a year.

By John McHale

FT. EUSTIS, Va., 2 Mar. 2009 Officials at the Army Aviation Applied Technology Directorate (AATD) tasked engineers at Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control in Orlando, Fla., to shorten the kill chain for Apache helicopters by integrating unmanned aircraft system (UAS) video and to do it in less than a year.

"The Quick Reaction Capability program" created the Apache Video from Unmanned Aircraft Systems for Interoperability Teaming -- Level 2 (VUIT-2) system, says Bill Murtha, VUIT-2 program manager, Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control. Lockheed Martin engineers completed the system in just over 10 months, he adds.

This effort is an example of how U.S. Department of Defense leaders have pushed aside funding in recent years for long-term programs to get equipment and technology into the field quickly to help the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The VUIT-2 was designed to be independent of the aircraft avionics, which helped cut down on development time, says Greg Walker, VUIT-2 business development manager, Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control. It requires "minimum modification to the aircraft," he adds.

It was the fastest design turn-around for any program Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control has worked on, Murtha continues. Lessons learned from the production effort will be applied to other programs to speed up development, he notes.

The shortening of the kill chain is the result of teaming manned and unmanned systems to provide intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance data, Murtha says. Real-time UAS targeting video streamed to the Apache pilots and gunners reduces the time from sensor to shooter, he adds.

Apache operators can slew their sensors quickly to adjust to UAS target positions, Murtha says. The VUIT-2 displays the UAS video, map, metadata – target location –in the cockpit, then retransmits it to the ground, he adds.

Ground units can see the video in real-time, enabling rapid target validation so commanders can authorize target destruction, Murtha says.

For example an unmanned aircraft – such as a Raven – out seeking targets for Apache attack helicopters transmits the target video and map to the helicopter pilots, Murtha says. The Apache pilot then uses the VUIT-2 video panel interface in the cockpit to analyze the incoming data, proceeds to fire its missiles, then watches the streaming UAS video to verify the target's destruction – all while remaining out of enemy weapons range, he explains.

The ground link to the UAS video and the Apache sensor suite is through the VUIT-2 mini-tactical common data link (TCDL). The information is collected and validated by soldiers operating a one system remote video terminal (OSRVT) or other similar equipment, Murtha says.

Camber's Sensor Systems division in Dallas designed and manufactured the video panel interface while the VUIT-2 tactical visual computer is a Thermite computer from Quantum3D in San Jose, Calif., Murtha says. The receiver assembly includes a UHF modem and OSRVT from AAI Corp. in Hunt Valley, Md., he adds.

The VUIT-2 also takes advantage of existing video recorders, switches, and antennas on the Apache, Murtha says. The VUIT-2 tri-band omni-directional mast mounted assembly (TOMMA) and right extended forward avionics bay (EFAB) chassis video receiver (RCVR) assembly enable the video feed on the Apaches.

UASs transmitting video include Shadow, Raven, Hunter, Predator, Warrior A, Reaper, and other systems. VUIT-2 also enables the Apache to receive video from U.S. Air Force F-15s, F-16s, A-10s, and U.S. Navy F-18s that have advanced targeting pods such as the Lockheed Martin Sniper, Murtha says.

"The F-15s and F-16s with Sniper provide day and night imagery to locate armed insurgents and guide weapons toward targets," says Mark Fischer, Sniper ATP business development manager at Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control. Future Sniper variants will also have will also provide convoy route and IED improvised explosive device (IED) sweeps, battle damage assessment, and high-value asset surveillance – oil pipelines, power lines, and ports, Fischer adds.

The VUIT-2 system comes in 2 kits – A and B. All battalion aircraft receive the VUIT-2 A-kits, which require permanent cabling and structural modifications, as well as a mini tactical datalink for downloading and control to ground units, Murtha says.

Nine of the 24 will also get the B-Kits, which use line replaceable units to provide UAS video display and receive capability, Murtha says. The capability will also be extended to other rotary wing platforms, he adds.

The manned-unmanned teaming through the VUIT-2 will also be used to provide "immediate surveillance of landing zones and over watch protection," Murtha says.

Other Army helicopters scheduled to receive VUIT-2 systems include OH-58D Kiowas, MH-60 Blackhawks, and Medevac aircraft.

"Foreign customers will not get metadata if they do not own the transmitting UAS, even if they own the Apache and expect VUIT-2 in an upgrade," Murtha says.

Planned upgrades to the VUIT-2 system will provide future interface with the Apache Block III UAS Tactical Common Data Link Assembly scheduled for fielding in 2011.

The next spiral of the program will provide video sharing between aircraft as well as two-way video ground stations, Walker says.

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